Tips for Renting a Vacation Apartment Overseas

 

 

After nine months on the backpacker trail in South America, Neil and I have rented apartments five times in cities that include Montevideo, Lima, and Buenos Aires twice.  In general we were very happy with the results.  We had privacy, a kitchen, high speed WIFI, and often cable TV as well.  Though we have also done our fair share of room rentals and home stays, renting an entire apartment or loft gave us time to write and cook homemade meals from local grocers.

A luxury 2 bedroom + 2.5 bathroom vacation rental apartment in Recoleta, a great neighborhood to live in Buenos Aires

Savvy travelers should keep in mind a few things when leasing apartments in which they have never stepped foot.  The phrase “buyer beware” applies in the world of vacation apartment rentals.  Here’s what we have learned:

Do your research before renting the apartment
You can type in “apartment rental” on any search engines and a myriad of companies will pop up, ready to take your deposit on the latest Paris loft overlooking the Eiffel Tower.  But question the source.  Before you put down the cash, search for bad business practices.  I use the search term “scam” plus whatever the company name is.  Flip through the first few result pages and see what dirt you can scrounge up.

 

Simple and affordable, this apartment In Banos, Ecuador has 2 bedrooms in the heart of the hot spring resort town. It costs about as much as your monthly car payment.

Is the owner on site?  Or is there a manager?
Often the manager will not live onsite for properties in big cities or in huge high rises.  The owner is a business person, renting several flats as his mainstream revenue.  So sometimes, the owner will be the one checking you in and following up.  Other times there will be a manager hired to respond to your needs.

 

One of the best places we've stayed in, this San Telmo apartment is right in the middle of everything with its thumb on all the latest music in Buenos Aires.

What fees are not included?
Best case scenario: an apartment will come with weekly maid service, 24-hour security or doorman, furniture, kitchen appliances, towels, WIFI, local telephone use, cable TV, air conditioning, heating, and parking.  Run through this list with the owner/manager.  Get everything in writing.

What’s in the immediate vicinity?
Especially if you will be reliant on public transport, the apartment should be within a few blocks of subways, trains, and bus stops.  Even better, your vacation rental should have a grocery store and laundromat nearby too.  Ask to see a map or get a list of the things to do in the

Located on the same property as the owner, this apartment in Lima is simple with living room, bedroom, and separate entrance to kitchen. Loved it!

neighborhood.  Bars, restaurants, and parks all add to memorable travel moments.

What are the guidelines for deposit?
In small rented rooms, I usually didn’t have to pay a deposit. For bigger apartments– for example in Buenos Aires when we rented a two bedroom, two and a half bathroom– we forked over $500 with a contract agreement that it would be returned via airbnb.com within 24 hours after checkout if the owner did not report any damages.  This is optimal.

Don’t Be Shy, Ask for Discounts on Longer Stays
If you are staying for more than a few days, ask for a discount.  Sometimes, they will say “no”.  Other times, they will take 10% off just to secure your booking.  But once in a while, especially if you are paying for a month long stay, you can catch a big break.  Once, I found a beautiful renovated apartment in the city center for US$70 per night.  I asked for a discount and got a few bucks off.  Then, I added that I could rent the apartment for 22 days (and pay in cash) but could only afford US$35 per night.  I didn’t think he’d accept but got a response within 24 hours.  He took the bid and we moved into one of the coolest neighborhoods in the city.

We didn't take this apartment because it didn't come with WIFI but for nature enthusiasts, it is located in the middle of the Andean foothills, beside Rio Bastaza. Lovely and Cheap!

Arrange Times for Check In and Check Out
Often check in times are flexible but must be arranged beforehand.  The owner has to plan for someone to meet you or for the doorman to let you in.  Check out is often an issue for us.  We had late overnight bus especially in Peru and Argentina.  So at times owners let us stay late into the day.  Make sure there is no extra fee for this service.

Overall, these are the main issues that I try to get out in the open when renting an apartment on vacation.  So far I’ve been really happy with the results.  We’d also add that when you check in, get your computer online before the manager leaves and check the rooms for any damage that may be pinned on you later.  If you find something wrong, bring it to the manager’s attention immediately.  Apartments require a bit more legwork in terms of research but there is nothing better than arriving in a big city and knowing that you have a fully-loaded apartment rental to call home.

About Melissa Ruttanai

Melissa is a social media coordinator, pro-blogger, and certified teacher. Her travel obsessions have brought her to 33 countries and 25 US States. Her work has been published by at DINK Life, International Living Magazine, Escape From America Magazine, Trazzler and On Holiday Magazine. Connect with Melissa on Google+ Twitter: @WorldWinder and Facebook.com/WorldWinder
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7 Responses to Tips for Renting a Vacation Apartment Overseas

  1. All the properties above can be found on AirBnb and FlipKey. Happy Hunting!

    • Mindy says:

      Cabin rentals are always good too for rustic travel with kids. They love that feeling of being away but having a home.

  2. Michael Koh says:

    GREAT post Melissa! Thanks so much for your trust and business and it was a pleasure to host you in Buenos Aires in my property.

    Like you, my family and I travel extensively around the world. We mostly rent apartments and homes and your advice is all great. I’ll offer some other advice that we found to really be beneficial in all our travels.

    Definitely ask them for the exact address of the property so you can plug it into Google maps and see exactly where it is. On Google maps you can typically see the nearest supermarket, drycleaner, bank/ATM, etc. But also ask the owner/manager for the locations and addresses of these places. The really organized owners will offer a welcome guide in their property that shows you where these things are. So before you arrive, ask if they have a welcome guide and if not, don’t be afraid to ask for addresses of these places so you know where they are.

    Also, something that we found VERY helpful when renting a property abroad is we always try to use the manager’s preferred transfer company from the airport. We always ask them to call the check-in agent as we are leaving the airport so it’s coordinated well and someone is always there to meet us.

    Even if you don’t go with their transfer company, ALWAYS get the name and cellphone number of the person scheduled to do your check-in. That way you always have a contact person if they aren’t on time you have a # to call.

    Before sending the funds to confirm the booking, in addition to getting all the terms and conditions of the rental, make sure you find out what the cancellation policy is before booking and make sure you are comfortable with it.

    Before booking, it’s always a good idea to ask the owner/manager what floor the apartment is on, amount of natural sunlight, amount of noise in the apartment, if there is any construction going on in the building/area, is the apartment on the front of the building (which could be noisy with traffic) or on the back of the building.

    Melissa’s advice to hook up your laptop while the agent is there is a good one. Also, it’s important if there is wi-fi there to make sure to get the password and network name.

    Also, before the agent leaves ask them where the fusebox is in the apartment. In many countries I’ve eliminated problems simply by knowing where the fusebox was. If the circuit got tripped, I simply went to the fusebox and flipped the switch and all was solved.

    Also, ask the check-in agent or owner/manager for a phone number that can be used after hours in case there is some emergency with the apartment or building. And it’s a good idea to ask them where the nearest fire extinguisher is in the building or on the floor. Many countries make it mandatory to have at least one fire extinguisher on each floor of the building so know where it is.

    Definitely always try to pay via credit card or Paypal as you are totally protected in case there is fraud involved. A great feature of Airbnb.com is that they always allow you to pay with your credit card so you are protected. If you aren’t using credit card, and sending cash/Western Union or even bank wire transfer, make sure the owner has been around a while and publishes his/her property on a reputable website that can be verified.

    We definitely LOVE staying in rental properties vs. small cramped hotel rooms. We have kids so we need to book 2 hotel rooms when we stay in hotels. Renting a property is often a fraction of the price but more importantly we can cook our own meals, have more room and truly live like a local.

    • Hi Mike! Paying with credit card is so important. People do wire transfers and debit card transaction and haven’t any idea what kind of protection they are giving up! We had a great time in BA. Diego was a good manager.

      • Michael Koh says:

        Absolutely Melissa I always try to use a credit card. The problem is you will find many owners that don’t take credit card payments. We’ve run across that several times while traveling abroad.

        In those cases I absolutely would NOT recommend renting unless the owner is listed on a reputable website like VRBO.com, Homeaway.com, Flipkey.com, AirBnb.com for a while. Those websites do a great job of policing owners to make sure owners are legit.

        In all our travels (we’ve been to almost 600 cities around the world), we have only run into one time when we got scammed. We are members of a Home Exchange website and had such wonderful experiences. We were told by one of the “owners” that their property wasn’t available for an exchange but they would rent it.

        I’m very experienced in the rental business so I was very careful. I asked the owner to see a copy of the contract, I asked to speak on the phone, and asked for a reference to contact. The owner provided all of these things. He said that he couldn’t take credit cards. That’s why I was especially careful.

        At first he wanted to be paid via Western Union but I refused and asked to make the wire to a reputable bank. He provided a bank account at a major bank in the UK. I wrongly assumed that my chances of getting conned were small by checking by taking all of these precautions.

        I was wrong. It turned out to be a scam. Although I wired to a legitimate bank account, it was a scam and I wired several hundreds of dollars. Fortunately in my case, the website where I encountered this fraudster reimbursed me once I showed them all the correspondence.

        After that experience, I’ll never book a rental property unless they accept credit cards. I realize that it reduces the possibilities but in this day and age there isn’t any excuse for legitimate owners to accept credit cards or Paypal.com payments where the consumer is protected.

        I think the single most important thing of getting what is advertised is going with a reputable owner/manager/company that has an established track record of providing excellent accommodations.

  3. priscilla says:

    These tips are really useful, its of huge help. Having a trip along with the children surely is a fantastic moment to bond with your beloved, therefore be certain to select the right location for your vacation. The one that is risk-free, comfy and affordable.

    • Neil Friedman says:

      The first time we rented a vacation apartment with kids was in Williamsburg. Incredible fun and the kids got a kick out of running between houses and on the wrap-around porch. Dad could be up early, brother could sleep late, and we could all retreat to the house during the Virginia mid-day storms.

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